Chapter 31: The Two Wizards
Shale rushed past her companions up the stairs. Surprised, they followed, Trigger bounding ahead of her and yipping as a few ogres come in the landing at the same moment they did. One of the ogres stopped, taken aback, and raised his spear, but Shale pushed past him and saw Fillip and Reverence standing at a massive, open door, and Blagothkus the cloud giant standing directly behind them. “It’s alright!” The giant said to the ogres, “They’re on our side. Lower your weapons.”
“We need to hide! Right now!” Shale said in a panicked voice, looking over her shoulder as the rest came up the stairs. The ogres grumbled and moved aside. “Rezmir is downstairs. We can’t let her see us!”
“Alright, alright, calm down,” Fillip said.
“Come inside,” Blagothkus ushered them in, then said to the waiting ogres, “Guard the door. Don’t let anyone in,” before slamming the door shut behind.
Shale caught her breath and sank to the floor and Trigger nudged her arm with his nose in concern, which she only now noticed was bleeding. “It’s alright,” she told the fox, scratching his ear, “I’m alright.” Trigger curled into her lap and she smiled down at him, feeling relieved for the respite.
“We won’t have long—to rest,” Reverence told them. “Blagothkus will work with us, but I—don’t think he can hide us for very long. We need to keep moving.” He quickly explained the conversation Fillip and himself had with the giant earlier.
“We’re exhausted,” Oszaren said uncertainly. “Can we risk taking out Rezmir right now?”
Keelan said, “We don’t have a choice.”
“How long—will it take to reach your friends in the north?” Reverence asked the giant.
He hummed for a moment. “Three or four days, I’d wager.”
“Did Rezmir see you?” Fillip asked Shale.
She shook her head. “I found her bed chambers, but only her drake saw me. I heard her voice and ran.”
“Still,” the druid said, “we can’t wait out the travel time.”
“Agreed,” Keelan said, hefting up his shield with an expression of preparedness that Shale could not muster.
“Hold up,” Oszaren said, turning to the cloud giant, “how many cultists are in this castle?”
Blagothkus screwed up his face again. “Twenty to thirty, not including Rezmir or her drakes.”
“And we can’t forget about the white dragon,” Shale added. “It’s somewhere beneath the castle for now, but it could kill us all with one icy breath.” Trigger whined at that, and she snuggled him closer.
“What about going back and killing Rezmir?” Fillip asked.
Shale shook her head. “There’s only one exit that I could see to that room. She would be trapped, but so would we.”
“We don’t want to start a battle we can’t win,” Oszaren added, “and we don’t want to put Blagothkus’ family at risk.” The giant nodded to him in appreciation. “We could try to find his family first.”
“We can’t leave,” Shale said.
“We need to kill Rezmir,” Keelan said firmly. “Cut off her head.” He made the motion with his hand.
“Let’s just do what we did in the swamp castle,” Shale suggested, somewhat sarcastically. “Incite a rebellion, and Reverence can go close a gate somewhere.”
Reverence smirked darkly.
Shale continued, “Or, somehow disguise Rezmir, make her look like one of us, and we drag her away wearing cultist robes.” She looked over at Oszaren, who seemed overwhelmed. “Oszaren, what do you suggest?”
The half-elf sighed, brushing back a stray strand of blond hair that was loose from his braid, “I say we go to Rezmir’s chambers and kill her there, while she’s alone.”
“Reverence,” Shale turned to the tiefling, “do you have any more patches on that cloak that will get us a quick way out of her rooms?”
Reverence paused then shook his head. “No more—windows, anyways.”
“Uh, I don’t think we’ll have time for any of that…” Keelan said, looking out of the large, shuttered window.
The rest of them rushed to peer out, and sure enough, Rezmir was standing in the courtyard rallying her troops. A few drakes stood around her and she was issuing orders to black-robed cultists, splitting them into groups.
“Shit,” Fillip said, drawing away from the window. “We need to run.”
They’d wasted their time contemplating plans without choosing one, and now Rezmir was surrounded by allies. They caught snippets of what she said: “…to capture the intruders in the castle…and the ogres will… the walls…” It was difficult to hear over the rushing wind, with Rezmir faced away from them.
Rezmir gestured to some men, and she, a few drakes, and a group of cultists followed her toward the tower. Another larger group ran to the entrance of the castle, five to the open caverns which Shale suspected went into tunnels inside the iceberg, and a couple ran to the smaller towers across the courtyard. “We can’t stay here,” Reverence said, looking over at Blagothkus, who nodded to him gratefully. “We go to the towers.”
They all shot out of the room. The way was clear besides the two ogres keeping guard for the cloud giant. They ran down the steps and out a side entrance just as they heard Rezmir burst into the floor above and flood the landing. They crouched low and sprinted across the outer walls of the castle, hugging the edge to stay out of sight. The fog was their fellow as they dashed along. Then, a hundred feet from the smaller outer tower where they’d seen the two guards head, Shale turned, and her eyes met one of the two men as they came up an adjacent wall from a stairway she hadn’t before noticed. Their wall was raised several feet above theirs, leaving Shale and her party at a disadvantage. They both paused for a second and then the man opened his mouth and shouted to his companion. “Get to Rezmir! Warn her! I’ll hold them back!” The other man looked over at them, a mere fifty feet across, then nodded and turned to run.
“Kill him!” Fillip said, touching a hand to Reverence and casting a spell on the monk.
The monk suddenly ran, dug his foot into the parapet, and leapt the incredible distance, shimmering with arcane energy and pulling himself up onto the wall, sprinting after the fleeing guard. Fillip transformed into a direwolf and snarled, turning to the tower door and trying to break it down. The door glowed with bluish light. Shale drew out her bow and shot the fleeing guard just as Oszaren released two green blasts and took the man down. Reverence turned to the other guard, who was trying to run past him. The tiefling got to him, spun and jumped over him with a kick and punched him hard in the spine. The man stiffened and stopped moving, stunned by the monk’s magically-enhanced blow. Shale and Whisper shot the stunned man, and an instant later an arrow and magical missile sprouted from his chest and he fell, dead. Reverence immediately grabbed the two bodies and began dragging them toward the tower. Oszaren stepped past Fillip, who whined and scratched at the door. The warlock whispered something that seemed to suck the magical energy from the door. He reached out and pulled it open. They all rushed inside and slammed the door. Shale’s heart was hammering as she looked around the tower’s interior.
They were inside a circular room built for a laboratory. There were tables around the outer walls and various papers, liquids and potions scattering them. Against the wall stood a carved statue with dull, ruby eyes. In the centre of the room were spiral stairs leading up. Fillip dashed up them to help Reverence drag in the bodies and Shale followed him up. The room above was a comfortable living space with several closed doors. In the main room, however, were large, squashy armchairs and heavy purple drapes covering the stone and ice. They brought in the bodies and stuffed them in a corner, hastily pulling a quilted blanket over them before retreating back downstairs. Whisper and Oszaren were poring curiously over the papers in the laboratory.
“We don’t have time for this,” Keelan said impatiently, and Shale had to agree. The paladin was standing at the door, guarding it.
“Wait,” Oszaren said, holding up a book and looking over the stone statue. “It looks like someone was trying to animate this.”
“While that’s all very interesting,” Reverence said heavily, “I have to agree—with our paladin friend.”
But Oszaren had come up close to the statue, and Shale, from where she stood near the stairs, could have sworn she saw the chest subtly rise and fall. Before she could say anything, Whisper reached to pull up a scroll from amongst the papers, and in the same moment a loud bell began to ring in the tower. In an instant, the statue had moved its arm to try and grasp a large, stony hand around Oszaren’s throat. The warlock instinctively jumped back with a yelp and summoned his blade, shearing it across the stone but leaving only a small mark. Shale could see the statue’s ruby eyes light up as it took a step off its pedestal. She withdrew her blades and ran at it, hacking at the stone with Trigger growling next to her. The moment her blade hit the stone, the statue turned its glowing eyes on her, and she felt her movements suddenly slowed, as though she’d been dropped into the bottom of a bog. Shale froze as her companions attacked the thing and she watched, helplessly, as it brought its large arm up and slammed into her chest, knocking the air out. Trigger leapt at the statue. A moment later, something hit her from behind, and darkness took her as her immovable body fell to the floor.
Shale awoke what felt like seconds later, her limbs working again and their paladin kneeling over her. He smirked when she awoke. “Your fox and Fillip knocked the statue over.”
“It’s dead?” She asked.
“Split it in half myself,” he told her, helping her to her feet.
Trigger licked Shale’s hand excitedly. She smiled at him and rubbed her chest bone with a wince where the golem had struck her. It felt incredibly bruised and painful to breathe. Reverence noticed this and handed her a healing potion, which she gratefully drank. “I could’ve sworn something hit me from behind…” she muttered.
“Uh,” Oszaren said awkwardly, “that was me, sorry. I sort of, er, missed.”
Fillip whined, still in his direwolf form, and nodded to the stairs before trotting back up into the living quarters. “Agreed,” Keelan said as if he’d become fluent in wolfish, “I’ll keep guarding the door down here.”
“What are we going to—” Shale started to ask, then heard voices as the door upstairs slammed open.
Everyone froze, and Shale held her breath, waiting for whoever had entered to see the direwolf that had just climbed the stairs.
“…your failures have cost us dearly, Zelnar…”
There was a mumble from the other voice.
Zelnar? Had she heard the name correctly? Shale instantly panicked, her throat going dry and her ears prickling to listen more closely. Zelnar Jorhus, could it be? The man who, in their meeting with Remalia and the council, she’d been told was behind the attacks in Triel? The necromancer who’d killed her family and turned them into monsters. Shale drew her scimitars quietly with sweaty palms. Hadn’t they said the Emerald Enclave had captured him? Then how could he be here? Her questions were answered a moment later.
“Azbarra is gone because you couldn’t resist showing off your little tricks in the village,” the first voice said again in disgust.
“…merely the teacher. Neronvain didn’t understand the things I taught him. It was a lesson in controlling his new power.”
The first man snorted. “You’ve always had a soft spot for that elf prince. You let your desires cloud your judgement. Our task is more important” the voice paused, “—oh, it looks like we have company.”
They heard a snarl from Fillip as the two men came across the hidden direwolf.
Chapter 32: Trigger
Shale looked down at Trigger, then at the rest of her companions, and the two of them raced up the stairs. She heard one of the men muttering something, and as she reached the top of the landing, she saw the two men. Fillip crouched in the corner near a velvety red armchair, hackles raised and teeth bared.
Both men had bald heads with tattoos. One of the men was garbed in a billowing red cloak, while the other wore shabby gray robes which looked like prisoner’s garb. The red wizard’s image blurred as shimmering duplicates of himself darted around him, making his true form difficult to pinpoint. Shale stared, wondering which of these two men were Zelnar. If Zelnar truly had been captured by the Emerald Enclave, then he must have escaped. She stared at the gray wizard, who stared back with onyx black eyes. As he whirled his hand, about to cast a spell, Fillip lunged, his teeth closing around the man’s forearm. At the same moment, the rest of her companions reached the top of the stairs and Shale jumped out of the way as Reverence followed Fillip, slammed his staff into the gray wizard’s chest, pulling the air from him and stunning the man. Fillip was on him a second later, tearing at him with teeth and claws.
With shaking hands, Shale replaced her blades, notched an arrow and aimed for the red wizard. After seeing the power of Azbarra, she knew not to get too close.
The next few moments were a blur of confusion as Whisper shot a fireball at the red wizard, who raised a hand pompously and made the spell fizzle out. Whisper hissed at him in response. Then, Oszaren was shooting eldritch blasts. Keelan was drawing his longsword. Shale’s arrow was knocked aside. Reverence was trying to punch the red wizard, but kept hitting his blurry images, sending some of them flying off. The wizard grabbed Reverence’s face and the life seemed to be sucked from him as his orange skin paled and shrivelled. Reverence stumbled back, shaking himself as the gray wizard scrambled out from under Fillip, limping and blood-streaked, and tried to run past them all. Shale slung her bow over her shoulder, drew her blades, and ran at Zelnar. Trigger bounded after her.
Oszaren turned by the stairs with incredible speed, summoning his blade and cutting the gray wizard in the ribs as he ran past. With the arc of his sword was also a deafening boom that shook the room and sent a few of the purple drapes flying off the walls. The wizard fell against the wall and Trigger bit into his leg, hard. The man screamed as Shale came at him with her blades. They hit but seemed to glance off, something shimmering over his tattered garb.
“Enough!” The red wizard shouted, and in a blink, he had flashed from one side of the room to the other, only a few paces from Shale. He looked at her with a sneer, then tapped the bottom of his staff against the ground. A massive wall of fire roared up, separating the room, cutting Shale and Trigger off from the rest. Now, she and her fox stood against the two wizards. “Zelnar,” the red wizard said to his companion, stepping away from Shale, who was too shocked to move, “get out of here.”
Then, as if in answer to prayer, Reverence came leaping through the flames, his tiefling body unscathed by the heat as he landed on the other side. The red wizard turned and ran for one of the doors, throwing it open and going out of sight. Reverence sprinted after him and Shale turned her attentions back to the gray wizard, who had gotten to his feet and was bleeding heavily from the cut in his ribs.
“Zelnar,” Shale whispered, and the man looked up at her, eyes furious.
Then, as she raised her swords to make the killing blow, Zelnar threw up his hands and released a billowing cloud of sickly yellowish smoke. Shale flew off her feet and heard Trigger yelp as he was thrown back, skidding across the stone floor. She coughed as the poisonous cloud filled her lungs and fell to one knee. She could no longer see the gray wizard. She turned, crawling to Trigger. She found her fox lying on the ground, unconscious, and quickly scooped him into her arms and tried to find a clearing out of the smoke. She tried to hold her breath, but her lungs screamed as she searched the obscured room desperately for a way out.
She tripped over something and looked down to see Reverence unconscious. From across the room, she heard shouting, a clamor, and the wall of fire dropped. She could feel Trigger’s breathing in her arms slowing. She hooked a hand around the back of Reverence’s robes and started to drag him, keeping Trigger in the crook of her arm, but her insides were burning. She stumbled again and Trigger dropped out of her grasp. A wave of nausea hit and suddenly the ground was coming up to meet her. The last thing Shale saw before her eyes went dark was her fox laying beside her, his last breath escaping from his tiny chest.
Shale woke to find herself out of the cloud of poison, which still hung in the air a few feet from her. Next to her lay Reverence, and the body of her fox. Keelan had a hand on her shoulder. “Your fox—” he started to say.
She nodded and swallowed, still tasting the poison. She didn’t need him to say it. She’d seen.
Then, realizing where they were, she sprang to her feet and turned to the noise in the next room.
“Go,” Keelan said, pushing her to the room and moving to Reverence. “I’ll help him.”
She ran, somewhat unsteadily on her feet, and set her mind to the task at hand. She burst through the open door and paused at what she saw.
The wall of the room had vanished, replaced by open sky and a ledge plummeting to the ground thousands of feet below. A cold wind rushed into the room as the ice castle continued to move steadily northwards. She saw the red wizard, with his staff up and absorbing a cone of fire shooting from Whisper’s paws. The bald man had angry red claw marks across his face from the tabaxi.
She saw the gray wizard who, mysteriously, looked healthier than she’d last seen him. A black shadowy hand was currently reaching out of his chest and grasping onto Fillip and draining him. The druid had returned to his half-elf form. Zelnar released him and Fillip gasped for air as the wizard stepped back toward the opening in the wall, his body glowing as he healed. Shale drew her blades and swung at him angrily, but he blocked it with a flash of light. “You’re the one who destroyed Triel!” She cried.
Zelnar laughed, his pale face turning uglier. “I was—ah, partially involved.” Then, he threw her back.
She caught a glimpse of the red wizard, also moving toward the opening, a streak of lightning arcing from his hands. Oszaren threw up his sword, which seemed to absorb the electrical energy. “Hurry, Zelnar!” He shouted, then jumped over the edge in a flutter of red fabric.
Whisper let the wizard fall and stepped between Shale and Zelnar. The tabaxi held up his spellbook with a half smile on his feline face. “Is this yours?”
Zelnar looked surprised, eyes shifting back to the missing wall. “Ah, so that’s where it went. Glad to see it landed in capable hands.”
Shale turned her angry gaze on Whisper. She was about to push past the tabaxi when Fillip turned on the spot and became a massive grizzly. He roared at the gray wizard, who took a few steps back.
The bear swiped at Zelnar—and the necromancer jumped over the edge.
“NO!” Shale screamed, running to the edge and looking over.
Whisper was beside her and shot a spell down, which seemed to catch Zelnar’s fall and slow it. “Wait,” Whisper hissed, but Shale had already taken out her bow and aimed an arrow at the bald man’s face, staring into his dark, glittering eyes as he moved in slow-motion through the air, soon to be sucked underneath the moving castle. Time itself seemed to slow.
There was a burst of lightning next to her, but nothing could draw her focus. “You killed everyone I love, you bastard.” Then, she released her arrow and the body fell beneath the ice castle, an arrow protruding through one of its eyes.
“Everyone okay?” Fillip asked weakly, conjuring a healing spirit in the room, which immediately filled Shale with warmth.
She stepped past her companions, all of whom were oddly quiet, and saw the poisonous cloud in the next room had dissipated. She took off her cloak and wrapped it around Trigger’s body, carrying it to an armchair and laying it down. She touched the fox’s soft muzzle and closed her eyes, searching for any way to bring him back. “Please, Gwaeron,” she whispered, her voice thick with emotion. There was no response. She looked up as everyone else returned to the sitting room awkwardly. Reverence looked especially out of sorts and immediately collapsed onto a small sofa holding his chest.
“That was weird, right?” Fillip finally asked, looking at Oszaren and Whisper. “When I shot the red wizard with that lightning, he exploded into snow.”
Whisper shook his head thoughtfully.
“That,” Reverence said slowly, not bothering to open his eyes, “was Rath Modar. I—don’t think he’s dead.”
“And that other one, the gray one,” Fillip started to say.
“A necromancer,” Whisper answered, cat eyes glittering.
“We need to hide,” Keelan said wearily, “and rest.”
The paladin and wizard went to search the other rooms, and Reverence groaned and stood to follow. Shale curled her arms around Trigger, the lump in her throat painful as she buried her face into his fur and felt silent tears leaking from her eyes. Her last true friend in the world was dead.